“It appears some victims have been targeted and some randomly,” Rhonda Blackmore, assistant commissioner for the Saskatchewan Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said at a news conference Sunday night. “So it would be extremely difficult to talk about a motive right now.”
Mass murders in Canada are relatively rare compared to the United States. The incident was one of the deadliest in Canada since a mass shooting in Nova Scotia in 2020 that left 22 dead and sparked a national investigation into how the gunman evaded police for more than 12 hours as he continued his rampage across the province.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described the attacks in Saskatchewan as “horrific and heartbreaking”.
“I think of those who have lost a loved one and those who have been injured,” he said wrote on Twitter late Sunday. Officials in Ottawa are “closely monitoring the situation,” he added.
Police have not yet named the victims. In a statement, James Smith Cree Nation leaders declared a state of emergency in response to “the numerous murders and attacks on members of James Smith Cree Nation”. The leaders represent three indigenous communities: the James Smith Cree Nation, Chakastaypasin Band and Peter Chapman Band.
Although indigenous peoples make up about 5 percent of Canada’s total population, they are over-represented among the victims of violence in the country, according to official data. From 2015 to 2020, the number of murders involving an Indigenous victim was six times higher than the number of murders involving non-Indigenous victims.
Detectives investigate 13 crime scenes. At least 15 people were hospitalized, Blackmore said, and “there may be more injured victims who transported themselves to the hospital.”
Police said they are still investigating the relationship between the Sandersons and whether they were known to the police. In May, Myles Sanderson was listed as “unlawfully free” by Saskatchewan CrimeStoppers – a community initiative designed to enlist public help to solve crimes and missing persons cases.
The pair’s last public sighting — described by police as armed and dangerous — was in Regina, about 200 miles south, shortly before noon on Sunday. Authorities say the men may have been driving a black Nissan Rogue crossover SUV with a Saskatchewan license plate.
At about 7:12 a.m., a first warning was issued to neighboring communities, including Candle Lake, Prince Albert, Melfort, Humboldt and Rosthern, informing the public of multiple stabbings and urging people to seek shelter. That warning was later expanded across the province and into neighboring Alberta and Manitoba — a vast area of some 800,000 square miles.
“At this point, we have no indication that they have traveled to another province. But since they are in a vehicle, we can’t say with 100 percent certainty where they are now, and we think it would be wise to let the residents of those counties know,” Blackmore said.
Police were searched as thousands of fans descended on the provincial capital for a sold-out annual Labor Day game between Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Regina Police Chief Evan Bray said additional police were added to the usual security on match day.
He called on the public to provide information that could aid in the arrests of the men. “It’s safe to say that someone may know the whereabouts of these suspects,” he told reporters.
This is a story in development that will be updated. Lateshia Beachum contributed to this report.